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MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/16 August) – Last night, the wannabe linguist in me wondered what syllable may rank as one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, in any Philippine language or dialect. Refute my judgment if you must, but I choose the syllable “ka”. For, in Bisaya and Tagalog, two of the widely used vernaculars in the country, it has found its way into several words that define human nature and relations in general.

Take the English word “comrade” or “companion”. It’s kauban in Bisaya and kasama in Tagalog. At times, the essence of companionship goes deeper when one needs a karamay (Tagalog) or kaunong (Cebuano), a person who sticks to you in times of grief, need and distress. Or, in hostile situations, you may need a kakampi or kasangga to stand by your side against the kaaway or kalaban (adversary). In the more threatening environment of a jail or penitentiary, better find a kakosa (which also means comrade in a pejorative sense).

Filipino pronouns likewise abound with the syllable “ka” – kami (we), kamo and kayo (plural for “you”). Why, ka itself is a pronoun; it means “you” as the object of an action, for example, “Nakakaon na ka (Have you eaten)?” And, yes, don’t forget the verb kaon/kain or eat, the Pinoy’s favorite pastime, I mean for those who don’t suffer kagutom and kawad-on, Bisaya for hunger and poverty, respectively.

To those who suffer kagutom and kawad-on, the Pinoys would show kalooy (pity or compassion) through their kawanggawa (charity in Tagalog) or kamanggihatagon (generosity in Bisaya).

But let’s go back to linguistics. In Bisaya, ka is used to describe anything felt by the senses – kainit (heat), kakapoy (fatigue), kangitngit (darkness), katam-is (sweetness), kabaho or kahumot (good odor or bad). The list goes on. Ka further attaches itself to words that define human feelings and emotions – kalaay (boredom), kasuko (anger), kalipay (happiness), kasubo (grief or sadness), kahigwaos (anxiety).

In addition, superlative adjectives in Bisaya are laden with ka. Thus you’d find the words kakuyaw (so dangerous), kadanlog (so slippery), kasaba (so noisy). In their simple forms, these adjectives drop the syllable ka. And, may I add, these superlatives may be used as nouns, for example, kakuyaw (danger) and kasaba (noise). In the same manner, the above examples of Bisayan nouns about things felt by the senses stand as superlatives, too.

When talking about human virtues or its opposite – the syllable ka is also indispensable. A few examples – kakugi (industry), katapol (laziness), kaligdong (integrity), kamapaubsanon (humility), kaisog (courage/bravery).

The same holds true in referring to collective identities and ethno-geographic divisions. Kababaehan (women) is preferred over mga babae, kabataan (youth or children) over mga bata. You have Kabisayaan (Visayas region), Kailokohan (Ilocano-speaking provinces) and Kabikolan (Bicol region).

Add to the list the Bisayan as well as Tagalog words for social and political ideals. Justice is katarungan in both languages. Freedom is kagawasan in Bisaya and kalayaan in Tagalog, although some would prefer the shorter laya. Equality is kaangayan in Bisaya; its Tagalog counterpart, pagkakapantaypantay, is rather long but contains “ka” nonetheless. Independence is kaugalingnan in Bisaya and kasarinlan in Tagalog. And remember the mass organization that fought for our independence from Spain, the Kataastaasan at Kagalanggalangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan (Highest and Most Respected Association of the Sons and Daughters of the Nation).

By the way, are you religious or superstitious? Then you believe that a person has a kaluluwa (soul) that goes to the kalangitan (heaven) when he/she dies if he/she shows kabutihan (goodness) in this life.

We can cite more examples to show the significance of “ka” in local languages. For now, however, these are the only ones I could think of. As we the Bisaya would put it, “Ang kalimot walay gahum (Forgetfulness is powerless).” (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at

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